Why Pokémon Fans Are So Mad About Sword And Shield

Screenshot: Nintendo

For a game series as long running as Pokémon, which debuted in 1996, it’s surprising how much goodwill many fans of the franchise still have as they enter their 30s and 40s.

Nintendo and Game Freak continue to appeal to children new to the series as well. But after a harsh and sustained negative reaction to the announcement that Pokémon Sword and Shield will not allow players to transfer over every Pokémon from the series, instead favouring a select few and focusing on the Pokémon from the new region of Galar, it appears that this goodwill has run out. But understanding why involves a little more than just wrapping your head around the current controversy.

While fans are upset that they might have to leave their poor Trubbish behind, the announcement has also opened up a wellspring of resentment toward the ways that Game Freak and Nintendo have handled the franchise. Let’s start with the most recent issue and work back.

OK, so what’s this National Dex thing?

The National Dex, short for National Pokédex, which in turn is short for Pokémon Index, refers to an Index that catalogues every single Pokémon, ever. Sword and Shield will not have a National Dex, just a regional one, meaning that the game will not include every single Pokémon ever created, nor will you be able to transfer them all over.

In terms of things to be mad about, I understand this one. There are people who have painstakingly transferred Pokémon from game to game and grown attached to them. Pokémon as a franchise encourages you to form an emotional bond with your monsters.

It does this through gameplay mechanics like Pokémon-Amie, which allows players to pet and feed their pocket monsters, and through the story, which generally is about becoming best friends with your ‘mons while beating Team Noun and defeating all the gym leaders. The players who have taken that idea to its logical conclusion are understandably upset that they might not be able to continue this tradition.

But this was announced in early June. Why is everyone still mad?

The National Dex is a representation of bigger issues that older players have had with the series, and in particular with Game Freak, the developer of the Pokémon franchise. Although fans have accused Game Freak of laziness regarding the decision not to have a National Dex in Sword and Shield, that complaint has become a stand-in for all the complaints that Pokémon fans have about the series.

In particular, fans have latched onto a comment from Junichi Masuda, Pokémon’s composer and series producer, that said they were focusing on character models and animations, and therefore decided not to animate every character.

Since then, fans have been especially judgmental of every single character animation that they’ve seen so far, like Yamper’s animation for the move Tail Whip, which, yeah, looks pretty bogus.

You didn’t answer the question. What are they mad about?

Sorry, hypothetical reader! It’s hard to explain what they’re mad about because it is so many things, and also kind of everything.

Pokémon, as a game, has thrived in part because it banks on the nostalgia of the people who played the first game, while also appealing to children. But while the Pokémon fans have grown up, gotten older, and maybe had kids of their own, the games have not necessarily grown with them.

The example I always use to explain this is the process of catching a Pokémon, which has gone almost unchanged since the first game. In order to catch a Pokémon, you have to battle it to lower its health and then throw a Poké Ball at it. So far, so good - it’s a winning formula and now a staple of the series.

In the first Pokémon game, in order to throw a Poké Ball, you had to open up the items menu, scroll to a Poké Ball, and select it to throw it. Later games would turn the item menu into a physical bag, separated into pockets. In those games, in order to throw a Poké Ball, you would have to open the Bag, go to the Poké Ball pocket, and then select a Poké Ball and throw it.

It’s only the most recent additions to the franchise that have tried to expedite this process. Starting with Diamond and Pearl, the last item you used would appear on the battle menu alongside the other options, making it easier to throw a Poké Ball quickly... unless, say, you had just gotten out of a battle and used a Potion, meaning you’d have to go back into menu hell just to try to catch a damn Pokémon.

It confounds me, to this very day, that there is no dedicated Poké Ball-throwing button in a video game about catching Pokémon.

Screenshot: Nintendo

Wow, you seem really mad about something that’s not at all a big deal.

You’re right. It isn’t a big deal. It’s just that I have been playing this game since I was roughly 7 years old, and many aspects of it have not changed at all. Yes, there are now over a thousand Pokémon. There are new friends to make and regions to explore.

That does very little to distract from the fact that the games are generally pretty much the same. While the National Dex isn’t something that’s important to me, I feel a kinship with those fans’ frustration because I, too, wish the game would make some more radical changes. The amount of time it took for the smaller changes to happen just aggravates that frustration.

On the one hand, having constants in a series is very comforting. On the other hand, I am turning 30 this year, and while I love simple games, the things that have endured in the Pokémon series aren’t all good. Basically everything is unchanged, including the bad UI from the early games.

What about Sun and Moon?

Yes, Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon made huge changes to the Pokémon formula by getting rid of Gyms, which were replaced by Trials. I really liked this. A lot of other fans vocally did not. If you’ve been playing largely the same game for nearly two decades, that much change at once can be pretty jarring.

Sword and Shield is a swing in the opposite direction, returning to what fans are familiar with, but that also means inheriting the series’ old problems.

What about Dynamaxing/Z-Moves/Mega Evolution?

These new battle mechanics can be pretty fun - at least, they’re a fun spectacle for the kids to coo at - but when you’ve dedicated dozens of hours to becoming Pokémon champion, they don’t actually feel well-integrated.

The Pokémon formula is now so set in stone that any new dimension stands out like a sore thumb. Although I liked what I played of Sword and Shield’s demo at E3, including how Dynamaxing changes up my battle strategy, it is hard to ignore the fact that this game is designed to make your Pokémon really big, but only in super-specific contexts.

Z-Moves, introduced in Sun and Moon, felt the same way to me. Although I like the idea of a special, blowout, once-per-battle spectacle, in practice, Z-Moves were basically just regular moves with a super-long animation. Mega Evolutions are a little bit cooler, and fans seem fonder of that added feature than others, but there won’t be any Mega Evolutions in Sword and Shield.

Mainly, this drama is about the tension of a desire to indulge in nostalgia against a desire to experience more complexity. Try as they might, Pokémon isn’t that deep, and making it any more complex risks alienating new players. You can thread that needle, but it’s hard, especially when the franchise in question is beloved around the world and has been for 20 years.

Fans are going to continue to be mad until Game Freak figures out how to please everyone, so I’m guessing they’ll be mad until the heat death of the universe.


Comments

    I've played every main Pokemon game since the first one at age 10. I love the games and I love collecting Pokemon but I've never felt the desire to keep them with me over multiple games, I like starting fresh with new Pokemon. Obviously considering the uproar I'm in the minority but I mean it would take a crazy amount of time to put them all into the game, personally I'd prefer that time spent making new Pokemon.

      People like us who don't carry over every single Pokemon between generations aren't the minority. Most people don't go around catching every single Pokemon available. These people who are protesting the changes are just a very vocal minority.

      I had a well over ten year old Venasaur that I am quite fond of and would have been one of the angry ones if I hadn't given up on Pokemon pretty much completely a couple of years ago or if I kept my Pokemon Bank subscription.

      it would take a crazy amount of time to put them all into the game
      They aren't making new models for any of the returning Pokemon so it really wouldn't take long at all...

    And I'm just sitting here..... still waiting for The Pokémon Company to release Zeraora in New Zealand....

    My two cents - they need to focus on getting all of the games onto Switch, integrate the national pokedex into each game (even if you can't import every pokemon you have into that game), and when they make a larger gameplay mechanic change, such as lets plays goification, ensure that you can set it back the way it was.

    Its Nintendo, they won't move that fast to support something like this, but the alternative I feel is the game is going to fragment very hard.

      Nintendo has nothing to do with that decision. It's on Gamefreak to decide on that.

        The Pokemon company is owned by Nintendo, Gamefreak and Creatures, and Nintendo holds all publishing rights for console released games.

        Yeah, its somewhat Nintendo's decision.

    There are videos beginning to pop up, showing Pokemon Battle Revolution. A game on the Wii over 10 years ago with superior battle animations.

    It really isn't a big deal, but if you've been following the game since X&Y, not much has changed... Since 2013 with annual releases.

    Finally moving to consoles, and the game is... worse?

    Been playing pokemon since the very first and I actually don't mind what they are doing about the National Dex for Sword and Shield.

    Like let's be honest, people are just transferring their full national dex in their bank just to get the shiny charm to hunt shiny pokemon. Competitive players usually use the same set of pokemon that is top tier for their class and sometimes a few different ones. No one uses the 800+ pokemon in any game ever.

    People complaining about having 800+ pokemon is about having a choice but i doubt they ever use more than 100 for each new pokemon games.

    And I have seen people comparing Sword and Shield with Yokai Watch 4 but majority Yokai's are reskin with the same animation unlike Pokemon.

      How about the hundreds (if not thousands) of hours I have spent shiny hunting, with the expectation that I would be able to bring them into each new generation to look their best?
      Then there's the fact that out of the old mons that did make it, they chose ones nobody likes like Bunnelby and Machoke.

      Of course no-one uses all 800+ Pokemon (or those that do are a minority), but if by your own words people only use 100 Pokemon, what's to say they're the same Pokemon for each person?

      When I first started Pokemon with Yellow my teams for each game were always just whatever I made throughout the playthrough, but since Black & White that changed into themes:
      B&W: Full Eeveelution team
      X&Y: Full Steel team (X) and Wonder Trade team (Y)
      S&M: Full Cat team

      My plan for Sword & Shield upon their announcement was to have a full Dog team, but with no National Dex that plan might not see fruition.I can expect Growlithe to be in the game, but will Poochyena be there? What about Herdier? Rockruff? Furfrou?
      If this game just kept the National Dex off-limits until post-game I wouldn't have a problem. Maybe one of the Pokemon I'd want for my team would only be available then, but at least they'd be available.

      Then on-top of that I have had special Pokemon that have meant something to me follow me up the series. My Luxray from Diamond, my Victini from White, my Furfrou from X, and many more. They are now forever to be kept in a previous gen as there is apparently no possibility of all of them being made available in one game again. And I will not store them in Home as I will not have my Pokemon held under a subscription that if I forget to pay then face erasure.

        Hopefully Home will be somewhere you can store your pokemon forever instead of Bank that require subscription but we won't know until more information is revealed closer to launch :(

        I certainly cannot comment on your scenario where your have some special pokemon that you want to bring to every generation but it still could not change the fact, majority of the 800+ pokemon is unused. They have gone too far with pokedex and it is hard for them to come back without actually adding the national dex in future update / DLC.

        I am not saying what they do is right but at the same time the public outcry of people wanting the full 800+ pokemon for their party is moot.

    I really don't give a rats about the whole lack of NationalDex business. But saying the reason for it is to focus on better animation, when that's clearly not the case (with in battle animations at least) is a bit of a joke.

    You can't really call it a bad animation when it's not really animated at all, just rotated a bit, it just feels so lazy. To post it on the official Pokemon twitter almost feels like they're taunting their player base.

    I don't care at all about not being able to transfer - there are way too many pokemon now and if this streamlines it a bit that's a good thing.

    I don't know why anyone would want to transfer their pokemon which would be lvl 100 by now anyway.

    Welcome to Galar, please have your passport ready for your Customs inspection. Do you (enter player name) have any plants animals or pokemon to declare?

    Im sorry (choose Boy/Girl) this species of pokemon is an invasive species and will be confiscated.

    Border Control Agent uses "Put to Sleep", its permanently effective.

    Gamers moaning, again! I'm so fed up of reading these type of stories, where people don't get EXACTLY what they want so just endlessly complain! (not the author) Also, people really need to look up the word "lazy" It's thrown around constantly now, "lazy devs" Yes, I'm sure they're lazy and just can't be arsed! I'm sure this will be downvoted to hell and I'm in the minority here, but how about this: don't buy the games you don't like the look of and just buy the ones you do!

      I agree. We should just consume product, then get excited for next product

      So we aren't allowed to complain about anything and just have to consume whatever shit gets shovelled by companies?

      Companies sure love people like you, Who gladly take whatever they give.

        No, you missed my point completely. You DON'T have to consume it! If you don't like the look of it, don't buy it. Go buy another game you do like the look of.

        And criticism is ok, but when the constant complaints and being called lazy all the time must wear thin really quickly as a developer who's trying to make the best game they can within a budget and time frame.

          If you are a dev and people are complaining about something, Clearly, you as a dev are doing something wrong. Otherwise, people wouldn't complain.

          How about this, If you don't like people complaining about a game, Stop reading those complaints and only look at positive comments because clearly negative opinions are too much for you.

            Wait, so you honestly think because a load of random people on the internet are complaining about something there HAS to be a problem?! That's insane as nothing would ever get made as there's always someone that isn't happy.

            And as I said in my last reply, criticism is ok, it's when people go on and on about things, it's ridiculous. People seem to think they're entitled to exactly what they want, and if they think they aren't getting it whine and complain over and over hoping they'll get what they want. Try doing that in the real world, in person and see how far it gets you.

    I'm not gonna hide it: I'm a bit butthurt about this outcome.
    HOWEVER, I'm also deeply aware that I've readily subscribed to the mentality of the modern day gamer wherein we have access to oodles of pre-development info and can formulate firm opinions in advance. So I'm gonna try and wind myslf down about it.
    Thing is: Is the new norm re formulating opinions on games prior to release actually okay?
    By letting myself get in on the hate, am I just normalising? Or am I part of a problem?
    Should I just let this go? Or is that a backwards stance to take?
    These are just some of the questions aging gamers must ask themselves in this modern era of Fortnites, Booty Crates, and Post Malone.

      Being laid back and letting things go is why lootboxes exist.

      Being laid back and letting things go is why companies think its okay to release a game broken and lacking content and promising to improve it later.

      Don't be this type of person. Hold companies accountable, Let your voice be heard. Consumer laziness leads to Company laziness.

        Wrong and wrong. Loot boxes exist because people BUY them. You don't need to complain, just don't by them and they'll disappear. Same with the broken games, just wait for reviews before you buy, problem solved.

          How did loot boxes (in their original form) get removed from Battlefront 2?

          People complained. The gaming community as a whole raised a stink about them.

          Why are companies using the lack of loot boxes as positive for a game? Because gamers complain about them.

          Your method achieves nothing. You are complacent and will take any shit companies shovel at you.

            But I don't take their shit, I don't give them my money if I don't agree with there policies. I hate loot boxes, so I don't buy them. I hate preorders too, so I don't put my money down early. If everyone stopped buying loot boxes they wouldn't be included in games because the companies wouldn't be making any money from them. But the internet culture of today seems to be acting like a loud obnoxious cunt until you get what you want

              If people all did as you say then developer's would be free to make all excuses they wanted and just ignore the player base. There would be no classic wow if people didn't complain for years for example. Acting like a loud obnoxious cunt gets you heard, which is exactly what you are doing. Ironic.

                Do you know how fucking entitled you sound? "free to make all excuses they wanted and just ignore the player base" I give up.

          I haven't bought lootboxes ever yet they are still in 90% of the games I play, what am I doing wrong?

          Could it be that only a small portion of the player base sustains this practice and my only option for change is to complain about it?

            It's exactly that. But how is complaining working out so far? Unless people stop buying them, they'll keep including them.

              Worked well in battlefront 2

                Did it? I would bet a large sum of money EA changed it because no one was buying them. Do you really think a big publisher like EA would remove them if it was making them money!?

                  There hadn't been enough time for that to happen. The public backlash reached a point where it was a PR exercise to cut the lootboxes - it happened in the first week of release.

                  Riiiiight.

                  so EA removing them right when the backlash was at its highest was just a coincidence?

                  EA using the lack of lootboxes in new games as a good thing is just because people arent buying them

                  Several other companies promising no loot boxes are doing it just because no one buys them and not because people hate them

                  You sure are smart!

                  @djbear Several other companies promising no loot boxes are doing it just because no one buys them and not because people hate them

                  You sure are smart!

                  Replying here as I can't reply to your comment.

                  Are you serious? You think big publishers like EA are removing loot boxes because people don't like them? I'd love to live in this fantasy world of yours, but these companies exist to make money. If they were making money from loot boxes, they'd still be in games. With the amount of outside scrutiny they're getting from outside of gaming, they're still in games. Look at FUT in FIFA, it's just a giant loot box and makes them millions. They won't change that unless they see a drop in revenue.

                  Maybe you're just young and naive, I don't know. But you're grossly overestimating the amount of power you think you have against these big companies by just making noise on the internet in comment sections and reddit etc. They only respond to profit loss, they don't give a shit about you or if you enjoy their games, as long as you keep buying them they don't care.

    I remember EVE Online players literally cheering at the live announcement that a part of their UI would finally get improvements. The UI not changing reeks of laziness, and worse, that the creators don't play their own game.

    Pokemon is the literally the most valuable media franchise of all time and they act like they are some poor indie studio that cant manage an animation more advanced than rotating the model.

    These games should have AAA budgets at this point, the game shouldn't look worse than Zelda and be having features stripped out.

    Pokemon games have been getting lazier and lazier over the years, Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon were almost identical to Sun and Moon yet they sold them to us again for 60 bucks each.

    These will be the first games in the series that I don't buy, I could add some caveat about "Unless the reviews come back saying that its amazing and innovative" but we all know that there is no chance of innovation with Gamefreak at the wheel.

    You forget the fact that this being a Switch game could have been a Breath of the Wild-type level of re-imagining and beauty. Instead, it seems like another portable console Pokemon with maybe slightly higher definition?

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